The Goldilocks Dilemma

a cautionary tale about being too competent

Like the porridge in Goldilocks famous fable, one hardworking city cop found he couldn’t be ‘too hot’ at his job

In Brief

  • Once a celebrated hero, former Cape Town Metro Police Inspector Keith Abrahams is now a pauper after getting fired from his job in 2014 under unclear circumstances
  • Why would the City get rid of a decorated and dedicated officer? No one seems to know. But Abrahams believes the real reason he was targeted was due to his competence and exposure in the media  

“Son what we do can’t be quantified. Your worth is measured in the closure you bring … the people you save … that is your real legacy. And the best legacy a man can leave behind is the people whose lives he has changed. Trust me.” Hawaii Five-0

Was Inspector Keith Abrahams (57) really a hero or a dishonest Metro Cop bent on defrauding the City of Cape Town? This question was at the heart of his 2012 disciplinary hearing.

The evidence against him: three solicited statements provided by a failed trainee law enforcement officer.

The disciplinary hearing chaired by Jacobus Williams, the director of Internal Affairs at Cape Town Metro Police, found Abrahams Not Guilty of all 67 charges of misconduct.

After the finding, the office witch-hunt that eventually saw Abrahams fired in October 2014 continued.

Keith Abrahams cuts a forlorn figure these days

“It was like a bad joke,” says Abrahams, who believes the real reason he was targeted was that he was too competent and visible. “What kind of a crime can this be, for a police officer to do his job?"

Two years before the disciplinary hearing, Abrahams had become an instant celebrity, feted by the media and many of his colleagues after he rescued two people who were drowning in the Atlantic Ocean. The brave act made the front page of a local newspaper: ‘Hero Cop Rescues Rescuer’.

“City safety and security director Richard Bosman said a man got into difficulty in rough waves behind the Camps Bay tidal pool. Two lifeguards jumped in to save him, but were swept out to sea by the ‘strong rip tide’, Abrahams, a qualified lifeguard, received a call on his radio and dashed towards the water,” wrote journalist Luvuyo Mjekula of Cape Times.

The media fervently pursued Abrahams, and he appeared on various radio and TV shows. While many people thought he was a role model to emulate, some of his immediate bosses seemed miffed.

A glowing commendation by the Premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille, followed in March 2010. Congratulating him for the extraordinary feat, Zille wrote: “…I also understand that during your 27 years of service, you have performed no less than thirteen such heroic acts across the City, and for this, I want to commend you.”

Premier Helen Zille's letter to Abrahams

In what Abrahams now believes was an effort to keep up appearances, Bosman gave him a Gold Award for bravery.

The directorate also asked Abraham to head a new lifeguard training centre in Ndabeni, and paid for his diploma studies in Traffic and Metropolitan Policing at Lyceum College of Higher Education.

“This was important,” says Abrahams of the lifeguard training centre; “It was an opportunity to create a pipeline of well-trained lifeguards to patrol the City’s expansive beaches.”

An email received by Bosman in 2012, a little over a year after the establishment of the training school, set in motion events that would lead to Abrahams losing his job.

Rose-Marie Cupido, a temporary law enforcement officer who seemingly had an axe to grind, had emailed Bosman to complain, firstly, about being overlooked for a permanent position, and secondly, to report alleged fraudulent activity by some of her bosses at her station.

“About 2 months ago I reported it to my senior, Principal Noordien that there are people working overtime (FRAUD) at Camps Bay but went home early, numeious occasion, but claimed the full overtime. Since that time I reported it. I felt I’ve been victimised by my supervisors till today I’ve followed all procedures, but got no joy from this situation. I’ve not been considered for the post as a Law Enforcement Officer. I was under the impression that I will be protected under the whistle blow policy and the council is against all corruption and melpractition. I feel like the perpetrator in this situation. I am busy dealing with my legal practitioner.” (sic)

Safety & Security Director, Richard Gavin Bosman, led the campaign that saw Abrahams booted out of a job

In his prompt reply, Bosman promised to investigate the allegations, and indeed sent investigators to get her statement. Cupido provided three statements. The first statement, which was neither signed nor dated, implicated Inspectors Adams and Faure, but not Inspector Keith Abrahams.

In the second statement, which was unsigned, but dated 30 July 2012, she named more officers, including Inspector Abrahams. The following day, on 31 July 2012, she provided the third statement.

Contrary to the contents of her email to Bosman, Cupido’s statements  - allegedly made under oath – did not indicate that she had previously reported the fraud in overtime claims. In fact, she clearly stated; “The reason why I’m only reporting this matter now is the fact that I was scared of being victimised. Secondly, I was still a temporary member and was yet to become permanent and was told by P/insp. Noordien and S/insp. Overmeyer that the Inspectors must give recommendation for me to become permanent.”

The fact that Cupido had repeatedly altered her versions should have made Bosman pause to evaluate her credibility as a reliable whistleblower. Instead, 36 days after his initial contact with Cupido, he signed a letter suspending Abrahams.

Part of Abraham’s suspension letter read: “Due to the extreme serious nature of the allegations against you, which are both criminal and actionable from an internal disciplinary point of view I have decided to suspend you with immediate effect as from 3 September 2012…”

The letter also asked Abraham to hand in his appointment certificate and other council belongings, and not to enter any council premises “except for the purpose of your defence…”

Abrahams faced 67 charges, including misuse of a motor vehicle, dishonesty, fraud and claiming undue overtime.

The disciplinary hearing chaired by Williams of Cape Metro Police sat on various dates between 25 October 2012 and 16 January 2013 and found Abrahams not guilty of all charges.

Bosman didn’t anticipate that outcome. Within hours, he emailed Williams to say he was concerned about the process and judgement and requested a copy of the decision. Williams responded, saying he made a ruling based on the evidence or lack thereof presented at the hearing.

Only 2 of the 67 charges had supporting evidence, albeit baseless. Charges 1 and 7 concerned Abrahams leaving work two hours early, yet his line manager had testified at the disciplinary hearing that he had personally granted him permission to leave.

In her testimony at the hearing, Cupido, the City’s star witness did not implicate Abrahams.

Mr. Jeugens, a representative of NETSTAR – the City’s then supplier of vehicle tracking services– was hard pressed to explain why the system had indicated that the Metro Car assigned to Abrahams was at one point logged in Namibia, and then shortly thereafter in Cape Town.

Despite the tattered state of the case against Abrahams, Bosman sought to initiate a second disciplinary hearing based on the same charges.

Bosman had joined the Cape Town Metro Law Enforcement in 1985 (two years after Abrahams) and became a director in Overstrand sub-council after a short stint as a Beach Constable. He resigned from service in 2002 after allegedly cashing out his pension and in 2008, he returned to the City of Cape Town as Director of Safety and Security.

Verifiable information in our possession shows Achmat Ebrahim, the City Manager initially declined to approve Bosman’s request to have Abrahams re-charged. He questioned why Bosman couldn’t rather approach the labour court for a review of the finding as stipulated by law.

Not keen to give up his fight against Abrahams, Bosman proceeded to use ratepayers’ funds for a favourable legal opinion, which forced Ebrahim to authorise the secondary hearing that resulted in Abrahams’ firing.

Meanwhile, a quiet scheme had been hatched to decapitate Abraham’s labour union, South African Municipal Workers Union. The union’s officials in Cape Town were suspiciously placed under investigations, thereby disabling the Union from representing its member. As soon as the second disciplinary hearing was in progress, the Union officials were cleared of all claims.

uSpiked contacted Executive Mayor, Patricia De Lille on August 26, 2016, to find out why the City of Cape Town needed to get rid of Abrahams. Taryn Hoosain, an admin clerk at the Mayor’s office, first undertook to provide a response within seven working days. This never happened. Several weeks later and after our prompting, Hoosain roped in City Manager Ebrahim to explain. Needless to say, we are still waiting for an explanation.

How much did it cost ratepayers to dismiss a decorated metro police officer, Mayor De Lille and Mr. Ebrahim?

Keith Abrahams’ story is far from over.